Daily Press Briefing - January 11, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

  • IRAN
    • Iranian Scientist
    • Parliamentary Election Qualifications
    • U.S. Encouraging Countries to Diversify Away from Iranian Oil
    • Assad Not Providing Hospitable Environment for Journalists, Peaceful Protests
    • Russia / Security Council / Arab League
    • Ambassador Sherry Rehman
    • Broad Contacts / Ambassador Munter
    • U.S. Supports Civilian-Led Democracy
    • Deputy Secretary Burns Meetings
    • Secretary Clinton's Meeting with Foreign Minister
    • Nutritional Assistance
    • U.S. Has Made Clear What It Will Take to Get Back to Six-Party Table
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 11, 2012


10:53 a.m. EST

MS. NULAND: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for getting here early to do this in gaggle format. As you know, the Secretary will be out later, at our usual briefing time, with the Qatari foreign minister, so we wanted to make sure we were at least available to you today in some manner.

We do not have anything at the top. I assume you all saw the Secretary’s strong statement on Iran yesterday. Other than that, let’s go to what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Well, let’s – can we start with the scientist?

QUESTION: Can we continue with Iran?


QUESTION: You probably have seen the news that an Iranian nuclear scientist was killed. I wonder what your reaction is. Would you condemn this killing?

MS. NULAND: We’ve seen the reports of the death of the Iranian scientist as a result of an apparent bombing. We condemn any assassination or attack on an innocent person, and we express our sympathies to the family.

QUESTION: The Iranians have accused Israel and the United States of carrying out this killing. Any truth to that?

MS. NULAND: I don't have any information to share one way or the other on that.

QUESTION: You don’t want to deny killing him?

MS. NULAND: Obviously, we – as I said, we condemn the loss of innocent life.

QUESTION: That’s not a denial as such.

MS. NULAND: I’m not prepared to speak one way or the other. I, frankly --

QUESTION: You didn’t want to deny it.

QUESTION: Would the scientist come under innocent life?

MS. NULAND: Say again?

QUESTION: Would the scientist come under your definition of innocent life?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don't think I have anything further to say on this, that we condemn violence of any kind.

QUESTION: Don’t you think he’d be a logical target, given the pressure from Israel and the U.S. against --

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to who may or may not have done this, one way or the other.

QUESTION: Why are you not willing to rule out that the United – I mean, the United States did not – they’ve alleged this. Why are you unwilling to say, “Of course we didn’t do this. We don’t --

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I don't think this Department has any information further to what I’ve already said, which we condemn the loss of innocent life.[1]

Let’s – guys, let’s move on. What else you got?

QUESTION: There was a French journalist who has been killed in Syria.

MS. NULAND: Sorry. I didn’t --

QUESTION: A French journalist has been killed in Syria today.



MS. NULAND: In Syria. I was not aware of that. But --


MS. NULAND: In Homs. Well, as you know, we have been concerned and we’ve been very clear that, far from meeting his commitments to the Arab League, President Assad has continued to perpetrate violence against his own people and has not provided an environment hospitable to journalists, hospitable to peaceful protests, et cetera. So obviously if – assuming that these reports are accurate, we regret that loss of life, and we would put blame squarely on the violent environment the regime continues to propagate.

QUESTION: Ambassador Rice yesterday said that the Russians have been AWOL on negotiating this resolution on Syria. Are you guys putting anything – any alternative version forward?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that we had wanted to begin serious discussions of amendments and adaptations to the Russian text, that we and some of the other Security Council members had put forward some ideas, but that – as Ambassador Rice said yesterday – the Russians have not been in a position to negotiate. So our hope is that after the report of the Arab League, we’ll have a little bit – we’ll have that data point and that report from which we can all build a resolution that makes clear that the Security Council is taking its responsibility to protect and advance peace and security.

QUESTION: There was allegedly a British draft that was also put forward. Do you consider that more of a workable text to amend, or are you still working under the assumption that it’ll be an amended Russia text?

MS. NULAND: Elise, I haven’t seen the British – whatever the Brits have put forward. I think I’m going to send you to USUN in New York for any further detail on how they’re trying to work this through.

QUESTION: Toria, President Assad has made a public appearance today, and he told a rally in the capital that a conspiracy against the country will fail. What do you think about this, about his appearance in public?

MS. NULAND: I think we had a lot to say yesterday about the public tactics that he’s pursuing. He is doing everything he can to deflect responsibility from himself, from his own regime, and we all know where the responsibility lies to bring peace to the country. And frankly, as we’ve said again and again, it’s time for him to get out of the way so that a peaceful process can move forward.

QUESTION: His wife and his kids appeared, too, in the rally. What do you think?

MS. NULAND: I mean, obviously he’s trying to – he’s putting his family forward. But this is – doesn’t change the fact that he and his government bear responsibility for the violence.

QUESTION: A man claiming to be a former member of the Arab League observer team told Al Jazeera yesterday that basically the inspection is a sham, that the Syrian Government is interfering, and that, in his view, human rights violations are continuing. Have you seen his comments, and what does the State Department have to say?

MS. NULAND: We have seen his comments. I think that the Secretary is looking forward to having a chance to talk to Qatari Prime Minister bin Jassim, one of the Arab League leading member countries, about their impressions going forward. These are the kinds of – the report made by this particular monitor are in line with some of the reports of independent observers. Presumably, his views will be crunched into the final report that the Arab League will come forward with. But his concerns are absolutely consistent with some of the reporting that we’re getting.

QUESTION: Does this deepen the U.S.’s conviction that something is going to have to be done about the Assad regime sooner rather than later?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve made clear that we believe that something needs to be done for many months now, that it is long past time for him to get out of the way, and that all of us need to increase the pressure on the regime to change course.

QUESTION: There have been two drone strikes in Pakistan this week. Does that signify that things are improving with the Pakistanis to the extent that the drone strikes are able to continue?

MS. NULAND: Well, you know that I’m not going to talk about intelligence issues. I will say that the Secretary is also pleased to be welcoming to the Department later today Ambassador Sherry Rehman, who’s the new Pakistani ambassador to the United States. That’s an opportunity for the Secretary and the ambassador to continue the dialogue that we’ve been having intensively with the Pakistani Government about the important issues that we’ve got to tackle together about getting our relationship back on track in all of its elements in the new year.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? With all the political instability that we’re hearing about today this week in Pakistan, and apparently the terms of engagement with the United States, that reports have been put on hold because of that, how is the U.S. dealing with Pakistan right now? In normal channels or has everything been put on hold? Or what’s sort of the effect of the political unrest there right now?

MS. NULAND: We continue to have broad contacts with the Pakistani leadership. Ambassador Munter is in country. He’s seeing a broad cross-section of people. We have said that we are ready to discuss the parliamentary report when they are ready to discuss it with us. And we are continuing to work on those programs that are moving forward, because we think that’s very important.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the situation there right now? It seems very unstable.

MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to some of the press reporting we’ve seen in recent days – I spoke to this a little bit a couple of days ago – it’s obviously an internal matter for Pakistan to settle. We are monitoring it. We want to see all parties in Pakistan behave in a manner consistent with Pakistan’s constitution, with its democratic processes, civil discourse, et cetera.

QUESTION: But considering the fragility of this civilian government, the rising tension between it and the military must have people concerned. Is that not fair to say?

MS. NULAND: I think beyond the comments that we made a couple of days ago – that we support a civilian-led government, we have strong relations with the Pakistani military as well, and that, as I said today, we want to see the parties work well together – this is a matter for Pakistan to settle. I don’t think it’s appropriate for the United States to be in the middle of it.

QUESTION: Have there been any contacts from within this building to your interlocutors in Pakistan, or is this solely a case right now of Ambassador Munter monitoring?

MS. NULAND: You mean with regard to the internal situation?

QUESTION: With regard to political instability in the country.

MS. NULAND: As I said, we have our Embassy in Pakistan making the same American views known there as we make known here, but this is an internal Pakistani matter. And the Secretary will have a chance to talk about the relationship and the region and all of those issues with Ambassador Rehman this afternoon.

QUESTION: Well, to put it more bluntly --

QUESTION: Well, do you expect the Secretary to bring up the issue of Ambassador Haqqani in that meeting?

MS. NULAND: I would guess that she probably will make some of the same points that you’ve heard us make here, that we expect him to be treated in a manner that is consistent with the Pakistani constitution, with international standards of jurisprudence. She may also make clear we expect him to be safe and secure during this process.

QUESTION: Is there a fear in this building that Pakistan might be on the verge of a military coup?

MS. NULAND: Ros, we’re not going to get out our crystal ball. I think everybody knows where we stand with regard to civilian-led democracy in Pakistan.

QUESTION: With respect to your assessment that this is an internal issue, there are – and you say you are in touch with the government as well as the military. Whom are you supporting, the government or the military? Because there is a rift there.

MS. NULAND: My point about being in touch with the government was in answer to a question about whether our bilateral relationship and the work that we try to do together in Pakistan is going forward. I did not, by any means, intend to imply that we are in the middle of an intra-Pakistani dialogue. We are not.

QUESTION: No, but when you say that you are in touch with the military, it’s --

MS. NULAND: In order to conduct our regular bilateral military-to-military work together, et cetera.

QUESTION: So regular contacts?

MS. NULAND: Regular contact, and I did not in any way mean to imply that we’re playing an internal role. We are not.

QUESTION: So regular contacts are continuing despite --

MS. NULAND: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: But even in the midst of those military – I mean, it’s not just military to military in the sense that – I mean, a lot of the kind of discussions about the relationship are done in military channels. I mean, when Secretary Clinton goes out to Pakistan, for instance, she has a several-hour long meeting with General Haqqani without President Zadari even being there. So I understand what you’re saying, that you’re not playing a political role in their own political dialogue, but certainly there are political contacts with the military.

MS. NULAND: No, of course. And as you said, on her last trip to Pakistan, as you know, the Secretary went with her own interagency colleagues, civilian and military, and they met with all of their Pakistani counterparts in the same room together to try to work forward on the U.S.-Pakistani relationship in both civilian and military channels, which speaks to the importance on our side of interagency unity and the fact that it works best bilaterally when we – it often works best when we’re all in the same room together.

QUESTION: Just on the – this is a fragile nuclear-armed country with a major terrorism problem and has received $20 billion in U.S. aid in the last decade. And just to describe it as an internal problem makes it sound like the issue of a center-left or a center-right government winning an election in Denmark. You have a major stake in stability prevailing here, and I just – there – is there no concern that – of the threat of this government really being weakened by the current strife?

MS. NULAND: Brad, we’ve said again and again, and I’ll say it again today, that we support a civilian-led democracy in Pakistan. That government needs to work well internally with all elements of Pakistani leadership. That is an issue for them settle. But nobody should be in doubt about our commitment to civilian-led democracy in Pakistan.

QUESTION: But there’s nothing you can do to actively support that as such, because it’s an internal matter?

MS. NULAND: I think we support it every day in the way we work together bilaterally. But these issues that are coming up now, these assertions and cross-assertions need to be worked out within the Pakistani system by Pakistanis.

QUESTION: So just to clarify: So you are supporting the civilian-led democracy and you are also supporting that there should be stability. So will you support the military in case that will bring stability by a coup?

MS. NULAND: You’re taking me into hypotheticals that we’re not going to get into. I think we’ve been absolutely clear about our support for Pakistani democracy.

Let’s go move on. Anything --


MS. NULAND: On Egypt, yeah.

QUESTION: Has Bill Burns gotten any assurances from the Egyptian Government that they’ll stop this crackdown on IRI, NDI, return their stuff and stop interrogations?

MS. NULAND: Well, he – obviously, this was one of the centerpieces of his visit to Egypt, along with intensive conversations with the government, with civil society, with some of the party leaders in support of the democratic transition underway in Egypt. Deputy Secretary Burns also met with U.S. and Egyptian nongovernment organizations; he met with the National Democratic Institute, National Republican Institute, and Freedom House reps in Cairo. He discussed with the NGOs the work that they’re doing to support the Egyptian democratic transition. He reaffirmed our strong support. He also pushed hard with the government to try to resolve the remaining problems, and we do think we are making some headway, but we have not yet resolved all the issues.

I would add that he also met with Egypt’s business community to exchange views on how international partners can support Egypt and work with Egypt’s private sector to encourage investment and growth and to lay the foundation for an inclusive, growing economy in Egypt.

QUESTION: And he met with the Muslim Brotherhood? I – isn’t that true? Didn’t he meet with the Muslim Brotherhood?

MS. NULAND: He did meet with some of the parties. That did include the Muslim Brotherhood today. He – let’s see what I have --

QUESTION: The Salafists?

MS. NULAND: He met with Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party leader Mohamed Morsy; he was one of the guys included. This is the first time that Deputy Secretary Burns has met with an FJP leader. As you know, Assistant Secretary Feltman and Deputy Assistant Secretary Jake Wallace have met with the FJP leadership in the past.

QUESTION: So this is the highest-level contact that the U.S. Government has had with the Freedom and Justice Party?

MS. NULAND: I believe that is accurate, Arshad. Yeah.

QUESTION: The Secretary hasn’t met anybody from them, right?

MS. NULAND: She has not. She has not.


MS. NULAND: But obviously, from our perspective, it was an opportunity to hear from them and to reinforce our expectation that all the major parties will support human rights, tolerance, rights of women, and will also uphold Egypt’s existing international obligations.

QUESTION: Did he come meet with the Salafists?

MS. NULAND: They were not there. No.

QUESTION: Why not? Are they not a major party? Did they not do quite well in the elections? Why exclude them?

MS. NULAND: It wasn’t a matter of excluding them. This was a – he was not able to meet with all of the parties. So this was a selective group of some of the – some of them.

QUESTION: Were they invited?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think so.

QUESTION: Why not?

QUESTION: Why not?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think that this was a chance for him to get to know some of the people that he wanted to get to know. But in terms of precisely how they made the decisions, I’m going to send you back to our Embassy in Cairo. I just have --

QUESTION: But it’s a really interesting omission, right? Because they did well in the elections, they are a political party, they are going to be a player to some degree or not simply by rights of their political standing and the votes they won. Why would you not want to get – and I don’t think the U.S. Government has had a whole lot of contact with the Salafists in Egypt in the past – why wouldn’t you want to meet them, and at that level, so you can get to know this new actor on the Egyptian political scene?

MS. NULAND: Well, first to say that our Embassy in Cairo, to include our ambassador, does meet with the party and meets with folks in party leadership, and has in the past. How this particular group was chosen, I can’t speak to, Arshad. But if our Embassy has any more insight into that, I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Can you take the question?


MS. NULAND: I will take the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: I will take the question.

QUESTION: On the peace treaty issue, just – did he receive assurances from the FJP that they were indeed going to uphold the peace treaty as it stands?

MS. NULAND: They have made positive comments in the past on this issue. I, frankly, don’t have any further readout on what precisely was said in the room today.

QUESTION: There was a report this morning that Afghanistan is thinking of buying more oil from Iran to bring down fuel prices in Afghanistan. Do you know anything about that?

MS. NULAND: I had not seen that, Cami. I think you know where we are on this issue, and we’re certainly telling all of our partners around the world that we want to see as many countries as possible wean themselves from dependence on Iranian crude. So that’s our message. I had not seen a report about Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Victoria?

MS. NULAND: Please, Samir.

QUESTION: Victoria, can you give us a readout about the Secretary’s meeting yesterday with the Saudi foreign minister?

MS. NULAND: I spoke to the issues that we expected her to cover yesterday. I think, by the sound of it, and it was – I believe it was one-on-one, actually – I don’t have a full readout on that, but my understanding is that they talked about the full cross-section of regional issues, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Bahrain.

QUESTION: But what was the purpose of his kind of sudden visit? And it was a sudden visit.

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, from our perspective, you are right, we have had an intensive series of bilateral encounters with the Saudis over the last month. We had Assistant Secretary Feltman there; we had Under Secretary Sherman there. The king did send the foreign minister in the last couple of days.

From our perspective, this reflects the fact that we are doing a huge amount of business with each other these days and that Saudi Arabia is involved in conversations about all of the hot issues in the region now, whether we’re talking about supporting the transition in Egypt, we’re talking about trying to deal with Iran, trying to support political unity in Iraq going forward, obviously Bahrain. So there’s just a lot of business to do.

QUESTION: How much of it had to do with – one of the big issues that the Department is clearly working on now is the implementation of the new Iran sanctions that were signed into law on New Year’s Eve. You have six months, basically, to sort that out. To what extent – and if you don’t know since it was one-on-one, could you take the question? To what extent did yesterday’s conversation include or focus on the availability of non-Iranian crude oil to meet demand should supplies of Iranian crude oil be less available to the market because of not just the U.S. but also the EU sanctions?

MS. NULAND: I’m not – I’m pretty confident we’re not going to go into any further detail with regard to her private meeting with the foreign minister. I am quite confident that in his meetings in Washington, the foreign minister has had a chance to discuss the implications of the new legislation. We – as you know, in the context of encouraging countries to diversify away from Iranian oil, we are also looking at increasing supply elsewhere. These are conversations – obviously appropriately – to be had with all oil-producing states, including with some of the new producers or the producers who are trying to increase, like Libya, Iraq, et cetera.

QUESTION: Can you – you said you were quite confident. Can you check whether they did indeed discuss that?

MS. NULAND: Again, I am confident that we are not going to go into any more details about her meeting, as I said. I would refer you to the Saudis about whether they raised the legislation. I am confident that the general issue of dealing with Iran, the implications of this legislation, have come up in the meetings around town. Whether they came up with the Secretary, I think we – she certainly talked to him about Iran.

QUESTION: Any relation between this meetings and the visit that the Chinese foreign minister will make to Saudi Arabia?

MS. NULAND: It sounds like that’s a question for the Chinese. I can’t speak to what the intentions they have for their visit are.

QUESTION: Real quick on Kuwait, there was a number of candidates that were banned from the upcoming election. Do you have a reaction?

MS. NULAND: I can’t recall. I think --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think I might have had something. I don’t. Let me go ahead and take that one, Brad, if I can.

QUESTION: And then just, if I may, in North Korea there was – there’s more indications that the successor is interested in pursuing an aid-for-a-freeze deal, reviving –

MS. NULAND: That who is?

QUESTION: The successor.

QUESTION: Kim Jong-un.

MS. NULAND: Where did you see such reports?

QUESTION: They’re in – the North Korean media put out that --

QUESTION: There was an --

QUESTION: Yonhap also reported on that.


QUESTION: -- unnamed foreign diplomat or unnamed foreign ministry worker --

QUESTION: Yeah. Looking to revive the aid for a suspension.

QUESTION: In the esteemed KCnet. So I was wondering if you had any reaction to that, whether you’ve seen any positive signs recently from North Korea about a return to negotiations and a freeze in uranium production.

MS. NULAND: First of all, before we go to DPRK, when I was futzing around here seeing if I had anything on Kuwait – and we will take the question on Kuwait – what I was remembering was that we do have some comments with regard to parliamentary elections qualifications in Iran. I don’t know if you all had followed that, but apparently Iran’s interior ministry has disqualified some 32 current members of parliament from running in the March 2nd elections. These are not just reformists who have been disqualified, but also conservative politicians who have been critical of the Ahmadinejad government.

This is coming in the context of a months-long campaign of regime repression against political actors, including the 13-month house arrest of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi along with their wives and the sentencing of activists like Asal Esmaeilzadeh and Mehdi Khazali. So this is part of a bad pattern in Iran.

On to the DPRK, I hadn’t seen the specific comments. I think you know where we are on the issue of nutritional assistance. We do not link this to politics. This is not something to be traded. With regard to whether the United States provides nutritional assistance to the DPRK, our decision will be based on our assessment of need and our ability to monitor what we might be able to provide. Those conversations continue with North Korea. We have not resolved the issues that we have either in terms of what we would consider appropriate to give, particularly the issue of giving things that cannot be diverted to other uses or ending up on a banquet table and the issues associated with monitoring.

With regard to getting back to the Six-Party table, we’ve made very clear in the conversations that we’ve had bilaterally what it will take to get us back to the table, including continuing the dialogue with South Korea and real good-faith steps to come to show willingness to talk about their nuclear program and come back into compliance.

So the issues are separate, and we have not had strong new signals on either of those, to my knowledge.

Okay, please.

QUESTION: Do you have a date for the trilateral meeting between Korea, U.S. --

MS. NULAND: The U.S., Japan --

QUESTION: And Korea.

MS. NULAND: Korea. No, this is something that we are hoping to plan in January. I don’t yet have a date to announce.


MS. NULAND: But this is – the idea would be at the level of Assistant Secretary Campbell, our assistant secretary for East Asia, to have a meeting here in Washington with his counterparts from Japan, from South Korea, to talk about all the regional issues, but included very much within that our approach to the DPRK. We do want to have it this month. I don’t yet have an announcement on the date.

Okay? Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:23 a.m.)

[1] “The United States strongly condemns this act of violence and categorically denies any involvement in the killing.”